English as an Additional Language (EAL)

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Teaching and Learning for pupils with English as an additional language
Identifying the teaching context for EAL learners
Developing language and literacy for EAL learners
Resourcing the teaching of EAL learners

Grouping your EAL learners

EAL learners have an entitlement to experience a full and varied curriculum, irrespective of their current proficiency in English. The distinctive position of EAL teaching and learning is that pupils/students acquire academic English through the context of the curriculum and an approach that attempts to teach English in isolation, as a precursor to learning the wider curriculum, is not recommended. In general provision that withdraws beginner EAL learners from the classroom is not advised for reasons outlined below.

Mainstream Versus Withdrawal

Most academic learning for EAL learners should take place through the context of a fully inclusive curriculum within the mainstream classroom. This is true whether learners be new to English, beginner or more advanced in their stage of learning English. Some reasons include:

  • Meaning is made more comprehensible (Krashen) through the context of the curriculum and consequently acquisition of language and subject understanding is more likely.
  • Learners will miss important work once out of the classroom. Decisions about which sessions/subjects to withdraw from can be problematic and staff should ensure a way for learners to catch up on experiences they have missed.
  • The composition of intervention groups needs careful consideration, as they should include proficient speakers of English so that everyone experiences authentic models of colloquial and academic interactions.
  • Interventions are often delivered by Teaching Assistants trained to support learners with additional educational needs. However, interventions for EAL learners tend to be most successful when delivered by a trained professional who understands the distinctive nature of EAL.
  • The class teacher is generally the most highly-trained practitioner and therefore time out of the classroom needs very careful planning.
  • Learners need to feel a sense of belonging with their peers and significant classroom withdrawal can marginalise them.

How to group EAL learners 

As a general rule, learners of English as an additional language should be grouped according to cognitive and academic potential rather than their current proficiency in speaking, listening, reading and writing (Lucas, Villegas and Freedson-Gonzalez, 2008). There are a number of important reasons for this:

  • An important element of language learning depends upon the opportunity to hear and see language being effectively modelled by practitioners and able peers. This is more likely to happen in higher ability groupings.
  • Curriculum content will be more appropriate for the learner as they are less likely to experience subject learning that they have already covered through previous schooling.
  • Academic tasks will be more suitably pitched to meet the cognitive needs of the learner and offer the opportunity to experience activities that promote higher order thinking.
  • EAL learners, like all children and young people, know when they are surrounded by peers who are of a similar ability. Being grouped with less able learners may be de-motivating and is likely to limit a learner's long-term achievement.
  • Behaviour and engagement in some 'lower ability' groups can be problematic and this can be unhelpful for newly arrived learners who are already trying to adjust to the routines of a new learning environment.

Educating children out of year group

Teaching EAL learners out of year group, even for short-term ad-hoc sessions, can be counter-productive as it is unlikely to meet their social and emotional needs. Back-yearing is generally not recommended. 

Where a pupil has come very late into the UK education system but has sufficient command of English to be able to access the curriculum, it may be beneficial for schools to tailor their offer. For example, for students coming into Year 11 it can help to double up on English and maths by giving access to both Year 10 and Year 11 lessons so the student can fill knowledge gaps. A student whose ambitions or interests are in the sciences may benefit from a similar approach. It should be noted that this will mean the student will be following a restricted number of GCSE courses so choices should be made carefully and in close liaison with the student and their parents/carers.

Late-arriving students with less well-developed skills in English may benefit from ‘shared provision’ whereby they spend part of the week in school and part in college, perhaps taking an ESOL qualification. This approach necessitates strong links and good communication between the school and the college with due regard paid to safeguarding. But, where it works out, it can be a successful way of meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of the student.

Original guide sponsored by the University of Winchester, this revision sponsored by The University of Reading and Hampshire EMTAS.